Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Shawn Biggs
There should be a moral to every story. The man or woman with the pen and the paper, or the tongue and the voice should take us somewhere and leave us with a little chunk to chew on. It should be a required part of the process. There can be laughs and puns, violence and heartbreak - all of the proverbial good stuff - but there should be a point to it all. There should be a good and sticky point to all of the hassle of getting from the beginning (all that set-up and background), through the middle (all of the action, sometimes some flowery, circular moments) and on to the end, where the curtains are pulled back and the neon lights are spelling something out in a pretty, bar room cursive lettering. The moral to so many of Bhi Bhiman's stories could use the same neon sign. It would be in flickering, warm pink out front, saying, "Life Can Be Rough," or, "A Thick Skin Has Its Advantages, But It Weighs Twice As Much." Just when you start to think that anything can be chopped and boiled down into one or two little morals though, that's when you get yourself into a lot of trouble.
It's nice when there's one moral to a story, but it's even better when there are dozens and it seems like Bhiman, a former Midwesterner born to Sri Lankan parents in St. Louis, Missouri, who moved out to and has been living in the Bay Area for a while now, is a sucker for those tightly woven stories that still stretch into a myriad of directions. It's sort of like the way that people live in certain places, but might consider themselves to be from so many other places. Everything that they do and think is informed by the various accents that they've been touched with at different points in their lives and it creates a cloudy conscious, though one that's still mostly guided in the same direction. Bhiman, in his rambling man folk songs, comes off as a mister without a home and as a man who believes himself to have one very specific home that he's always making some attempt to get back to. Within his music, and in his head, this writer is a man of the rails, who will throw a rucksack on and split for the clanging clatter of a boxcar whenever the urges strike him, or things have gotten to heavy to deal with in one spot. It's then that he might be trying to get back to somewhere familiar, or he might just be getting to somewhere new, somewhere that's never seen his face, his hide nor hair. A lot of the train-hopping might just be a construct for keeping an agile reference point, never staying rooted anywhere too long, because then it just changes you, wears you down.
Bhiman is an idea man, old-fashioned and just as certainly, as progressive and open-minded as anyone can be. The old presets don't make much sense anymore, for no one has any proper place or should be operating with preexisting conditions or adages. A woman doesn't have to be anything particular and neither does a man. They can and should be allowed new expressions and new forms. He sings about the woman that became the narrator's wife in "Equal In My Tea," explaining how she's hung up on needing a man who meets her staggeringly lofty needs, those that have been handed down over the generations, from one girl who married a doctor to the next. Bhiman sings, "I met a girl today/She tasted like the finest Mexican wine/I like Mexican wine/And I asked this little flower if she would be all mine and she said hell know/I need a man to treat me like a queen all day and night/Need a man with money, style, power, prospects/A man looking for a wife/And I said, 'Bitch, just wanted a kiss. You've got yourself an unrealistic wish, looking for a man who's all that and a bag of chips." The hearts started thumping right then and there and she changed. She heard reason. She got a little churchin', outside of any church, and without any semblance of religion. Just true words and something like sanity biting through. Bhiman is always betting on the morality of sanity getting the best of the day, either that or everything passes.